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The Secret Gem of North Dakota
Hazen, North Dakota
Day 89: August 30, 2002

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I am in North Dakota. After cycling along the desolate and sun baked highway of Route 200 rain has come from afar to drown my quest in frigid downpour. It is a grand thunder storm that has come from far off. Forks of lightning clear the way for the stormy host. Thunder trumpets its arrival overhead. I saw it long before I felt its rain. The wind swirls in every direction. After crossing the Missouri River the storm hit. I pedaled onwards in the face of the wind and rain. Soon I was shivering from the cold and drenched. Then the rain stopped and I found myself on a grassy plain like a sea becalmed. Whirling plumes of dark cloud seemed to orbit around my position. I saw clouds move from east to west and from north to south and back again. It looked like the storm was grappling with what to do with itself. I kept pedaling through gusts of warm and cold air and kept my eyes on the wind as I scanned the road ahead for shelter.

Ahead was the town of Hazen. There I found a library, which after the librarian seeing my drowned mariner-just-jumped-ship condition invited me to dry myself off in the bathroom. "Libraries are where I usually come in times of darkness," I tell her, almost as an apology for dripping water on the fresh mopped floor. We talk and I tell her I come from a land far to the east called Virginia, and that I'm looking for a place in town to stay for the night because it is as Dick Cawrse from Huron, Ohio would say, one of those "rainy days." She tells me there is a motel in town.

After drying off in the bathroom the librarian introduces me to Mike Quinn. He offers to allow me to stay at his place. "You're not a serial killer are you?" he asks. I don't tell him that I could ask the same of him, but I figure that anybody who works at the City Hall and is on good terms with a librarian must be a decent person.

Mike Quinn came to North Dakota from West Virginia. Hazen's town judge, Mike Quinn, sails the last great lake of the Midwest, Lake Sakakawea. His wife Cissie is the town forester. Both keep it real by cycling and sailing. After a fabulous Mexican dinner Mike takes me on an automobile ride. The terrain that usually takes me an hour to traverse wafts by with press of the gas and turn of the wrists. I marvel at the rolling hills and houses passing by. It is like watching a movie. He drives and talks while I look and gawk at the world whizzing by. Mike tells me that the secret to living in North Dakota is that you have to have something seasonal and blissful to do. For Mike that is sailing and cycling in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. As we drive over the final hill I see Lake Sakakawea: vast, blue waters, rippling with the last rays of a setting sun, and stretching to the northern horizon with various watery arms delving into the grassy hills. He tells me that not many people realize that there is such a great lake in North Dakota. It is the state's best kept secret.

On the way back to the house Mike tells me that when he first moved here he saw a tornado. He was driving home, had just crested a hill and saw a tall gleaming pole in the distance. He thought that it was radio tower. But then he realized that it was too tall and too far away to be merely an antenna. It was a tornado that had appeared out of the ethereal borderlands of the southern horizon. Here there are lakes and hills, and a few trees, but there is also the seemingly limitless visibility of the high plains, which I find so appealing. It is such a different view than the one I knew in the eastern woodlands.

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